Security, co-existence and prosperity: these are the principles that the UK has been working tirelessly towards in the Western Balkans over the last decade, since we played an important role in NATO’s military campaign aimed at averting a human rights catastrophe in Kosovo in 1999. British troops have been stationed in Kosovo, as part of NATO’s force, ever since.
With the fighting over, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 called for a political process to determine Kosovo’s Final Status. Having concluded in 2005 that the status quo was unsustainable, the UN took a status process forward, initially through the work of UN Special Envoy Ahtisaari and subsequently through an EU/US/Russian Troika. These negotiations exhausted every possible avenue to try to find an agreement on Kosovo’s future acceptable to both Belgrade and Pristina.
In the absence of such an agreement we could not just leave Kosovo’s status unresolved. This would have consigned Kosovo to an unacceptable state of limbo in which its political and economic development would be held back and the region’s stability jeopardised. So, with no realistic prospect of an agreement, the UK was of the view that the UN Special Envoy’s proposal provided the most viable way forward. In its declaration of independence on 17 February, Kosovo fully committed itself to the obligations contained in this proposal. The UK has decided to recognise Kosovo’s independence in order to deliver a more stable future for the region. We have established diplomatic relations with Kosovo and the UK now has an Ambassador in Pristina.
I am often asked what makes Kosovo’s case different to other unresolved status issues. The straightforward answer is that the violent break-up of Yugoslavia and the humanitarian crisis that precipitated the events of 1999, followed by a prolonged period of international administration, combine to make Kosovo’s case unique. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 created a distinct and specific status process for Kosovo, which does not apply elsewhere. Resolution of Kosovo’s status therefore does not set a precedent for other disputes around the world. We and our EU partners made this crystal clear when we announced our response to Kosovo’s declaration of independence.
We have also always been clear with the authorities in Kosovo that the UN Special Envoy’s proposal requires them to respect and protect the rights of all Kosovo’s minorities, including its Serbs. I welcome the fact that the Government of Kosovo has committed itself to this goal. We and our partners in the international community will give them every possible assistance to help build a stable, democratic and multi-ethnic country.
The European Union is deploying the largest policing and rule of law mission it has ever assembled to mentor, monitor and advise Kosovo’s embryonic justice sector. This will include 70 British personnel. An International Civilian Representative, who will also serve as the EU’s Special Representative, will oversee helping Kosovo Government, assisted by a number of British staff. NATO forces, including 140 British soldiers, will continue to provide security for all of the people of Kosovo. And to promote Kosovo’s economic development, the UK has committed £23m [$44m/Eur34m] in assistance to Kosovo over the next three years.
I do not underestimate the challenges ahead. Kosovo’s leaders must govern wisely, and will require international support for many years. I understand also the great depth of feeling among the people of Serbia about what has taken place. For us, this has always been about regional stability and never about punishing Serbia. I am proud of the part the UK has played in creating an opportunity for all the countries of the Western Balkans – Serbia included – to put the dark days of the past behind them and to look to a better future. The UK firmly believes that Serbia and Kosovo can both one day become members of the EU and NATO, the organisations that have been so successful in underpinning our security and prosperity in the last half century.